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ASK A MASTER GARDENER: Tending to thin rhubarb stalks, cracked tomatoes

Ask a Master Gardener

Q: I moved my rhubarb plant to another location two years ago. The stems are very thin, and I wondered what could be lacking in the soil. I used cow manure for fertilization. I thought it would be good for it.

A: It is a good idea to fertilize rhubarb, both new plantings and old, and well-rotted manure is a good fertilizer.

It may be that the plant just needs another year. It can take several years to get established and start producing thicker stalks.

Other things that can cause thin stalks are lack of sunshine or too much moisture. Is the new spot shadier or wetter than the old spot?

Overcrowded plants may also produce thin stalks, but it sounds like you’ve just got one plant.

Diseases or viruses can cause weak growth in rhubarb, too, but I’d give it another year before pulling it out. Spread some compost or rotted manure around the plant this fall, leaving the crown exposed, and see if it produces better next year.

Q: How do I keep my tomatoes from cracking?

A: Tomatoes crack because they have hit an extreme growth spurt. This is either because the plant suddenly gets water after a period of drought or because the weather is very hot and wet. Sometimes, too much nitrogen combined with not enough potassium can be the problem. Consistent watering and mulching the area around the plant to keep the soil moist will help and, of course, don’t overfertilize. Large beefsteak varieties of tomatoes are more prone to cracking than smaller types such as plum and cherry, so if it is a continuing problem you might want to grow smaller or resistant varieties.